Broadway Producer Kevin McCollum Talks Creating the Something Rotten! Musical From Scratch

Q&A 01/12/17

Kevin McCollum is the creative producer—well known for his previous hits including Rent, Avenue Q and In the Heights—who spearheaded the development of Something Rotten! from a handful of songs to a Broadway smash. McCollum is based in New York, but he is also a visiting professor at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music.

What is the story of Something Rotten!?
The story takes place during the English Renaissance in 1595. It is a story of two brothers—Nick and Nigel Bottom—who have a theater company and are putting on a production of Richard II, only to discover Shakespeare has beaten them to it and is already doing his own Richard II. And they wonder, “Why does Shakespeare always get the better of us?” The Bottom brothers keep getting beaten out by Shakespeare time and again until they go to a soothsayer and they find out the next big thing in theater is called a “musical.” Something Rotten! is a musical about the very first musical. It’s just hysterical and will delight you and surprise you.

Is this a musical for people who love Shakespeare, or a Shakespeare show for people who love musicals?
I think this is a musical for people who hate Shakespeare and love Shakespeare, and people who hate musicals and love musicals. It’s a great first-time musical and it’s also a great musical for the connoisseur because the show references so many other Broadway shows.

What is the origin story behind this show? Writers Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell had never done anything like this before.
This show came about because of my friendship with Karey. We met when we were both performing at Disney World when we were younger. We both had a love of musicals and a similar sense of humor. Years later, when I started producing shows on Broadway he would always tell me, “My brother and I love musicals; we’re going to write one,” and I would say, “Right, just tell me when.” And finally he said, “My brother and I are ready to show you that idea.” It was 18 years after he first brought it up.

I went over to his home in LA and he and Wayne played me five songs. Two of them are still in the show, one of them being [the opening number] “Welcome to the Renaissance.” When I first heard the song I thought, “OK, I like that...” and then I knew I was in trouble because a month later I was still humming it.

So then Karey and Wayne built out the show. I’d worked with [director] Casey Nicolaw on The Drowsy Chaperone and I thought it was a match with Casey’s sensibility, so I called him, he listened to the music, he loved it. The rest was pure kismet, because Karey, Wayne, John O’Farrell and Casey got on board with the same comic vocabulary to create a true musical comedy. It’s also the kind of show that you can see back to back and still get new things because it’s so dense with comedy working on many levels.

Why should people see this show?
We don’t laugh enough. I think people subscribe and go to the theater in cities like Cincinnati because they want to contribute to their community and celebrate with their neighbors, and see something fresh and original.

It’s one of those rare shows where you know in the opening number you’ve got the audience engaged because the lyrics are clever and the music is great and everyone is already leaning forward in their seats. But the number we are known for is an 8-minute—with applause it’s often an 11-minute number—called “A Musical.” It’s one of the best-constructed musical numbers ever seen on Broadway, and that number alone is worth the price of admission. But what really engages audiences is that the show is original, and that kind of experience is priceless.

This interview was conducted by Genevieve Miller Holt, General Manager of Broadway in Cincinnati

Related Show

Something Rotten!
Something Rotten!

Musicals, Comedy

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